Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My breasts and I...

...will continue to have one another's company, it seems.

Over the last few weeks, the Romeis household has been waiting to hear whether or not I had developed breast cancer - the scourge of the women on my father's side of the family. There was reason for concern after a recent mammogram, and an ultrasound confirmed the presence of cell clusters, but the biopsy results have returned with the good news that I am in the clear.

I learned something about myself during this time, and that is that I am unafraid to face death.

Because of my family history, most of us feel as if we live under the sword of Damocles anyway. A few have opted for prophylactic subcutaneous mastectomies. I have occasionally toyed with the idea, but that is as far as it has gone.

In South Africa, with the joys of private medical care at my disposal, I was able to have screening from an early age whenever I felt the need.

When we moved to the UK over 10 years ago, I lost this safety net. Screening here is only available to women between the ages of 50 and 64, and only every three years. For a decade I tried to persuade doctors that I should be screened earlier, to no avail. They only changed their minds recently, when HRT was indicated (for obvious reasons) and I declined on the grounds that it increases the risk of breast cancer. The doctor concerned (a student, as it turned out) asked myriad questions and sent me to a geneticist who concluded that I certainly have an increased risk in comparison with the rest of the population.

She set the wheels in motion and the very first screening in more than a decade took place a few weeks later.... and revealed shadows.

We now know that the shadows are no cause for concern. But while I was waiting for further tests and the results of those tests, I realised that I was utterly calm about the whole thing. Whatever transpired, I would deal with. My faith was tested - not for the first time - and came through with flying colours.

For those who already knew about this and have expressed support in various forms, I thank you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wouldn't it be cool?

I went to the gym today. Okay, there's nothing interesting about that.

I was wearing my heart rate monitor. Nothing particularly interesting about that, either.

But, as I was working up a very unladylike sweat, I was keeping half an eye on my heart rate and it occurred to me...

The heart rate monitor was bought online at a random purveyor of such goods. It is not the first one I've owned, and it is a completely different make from the one I had before. But the moment I step onto any of the machines in the gym, it communicates with that machine. Just as its predecessor did before it disappeared into what I assume must be the same black hole as a host of odd socks from the Romeis household.

All around me there might be people working out on the machines, each of them wearing their own HRM, with a variety of different types represented. And in each case, the machine is faithfully relaying the information it gets from the HRM of the individual concerned.

C'mon! How cool is that?

No one has to jump through any hoops to get their HRM to talk to the machines. It just happens.

A little bit different from when I go to stay in a hotel, and have to go through a whole series of steps before my computer can talk to the Internet. And when I go to visit a colleague or a client, if it is even possible to connect to the Internet from the site at all (which is rare), I have another series of back flips to do. Otherwise I have to use a dongle.

I know. I know. Security and all that stuff.

But wouldn't it be cool?

Wouldn't it be cool if my computer and the Internet service in every locale just greeted each other like old friends who pick up where they left off? If there wasn't even a pause as I left one building and entered another?

Just daydreaming...

Friday, November 20, 2009

On being a hypocrite

Last night, I was deeply touched by an incident, the very fact of which makes a total hypocrite of me.

A friend told me that I am good at what I do - and she meant, professionally. She spoke with certainty, although she has never seen any of my work. In fact, she isn't 100% certain what it is exactly that I do. Although this friend is in many other ways vastly more gifted than I am, please don't think me arrogant for saying that I am 'cleverer' (for want of a better word) than she is. I don't think she'd dispute it.

She often asks me what it is that I do, and I explain it as best I can, while she stares attentively at me. You can all but hear the wheels turning as she wills herself to grasp this alien concept. But she is forced to admit defeat every time. Last night she related how she recently told her husband, "You know, I still don't know what it is that Karyn does, but I know she does it very well." I asked what she had to go on. She lifted her chin and said, "I just know."

Now, if Mark Berthelemy tells me I'm good at what I do, I take that as an enormous compliment. Mark knows exactly what I do... and he's seen my work. In fact we've worked together.

But there's just something deeply touching about the totally unfounded, deeply seated loyalty of a friend.

How wonderfully illogical we humans are!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On lying

I listened to a fascinating radio programme (link only available for a limited time) about lying today. Apparently, the research shows that we all lie much of the time.

The programme talked about the role of lies in the fabric of our society. One panel member even suggested that a sudden switch to complete honesty would destroy our society within 24 hours. They talked about the different kinds of lies and the intentions behind them.

I thought about it. I thought about some of the deliberate lies I have told in my life and why. I have always thought of myself as a pretty honest, transparent person... and I have the bruises to prove it ;o)... but I realised there are times when I am less so.

For example, a while ago, I bumped into someone I hadn't seen for some time and learned that she had had cancer treatment in the interim. She spoke about how no-one even noticed that she was wearing a wig, because it was such a close match to her own hair. I told her I just thought she had had new highlights. This was not true. While it was a very good wig, the parting was clearly showing a glimpse of the weave rather than scalp, and I had noticed from the get-go. I had put two and two together and assumed that chemo was involved. But I didn't say so. I decided she had had enough to deal with.

I lied.

I have told friends they look beautiful when they don't (in my estimation, anyway). I have said that I am not offended by things that have cut me to the quick. I have pretended to be confident when I have been quivering in my boots.

So yes, I am a liar. And so, according to the research, are you.

But, an interesting topic was just touched on. The impact of social media.

You see, when you tell person A you can't possibly come to her house for dinner, because you have a migraine, and then a comment appears on your Facebook page from person B the next day saying thanks for the lovely time last night.... what then?

When you claim to have worked for X company in one place and deny it in another, what are prospective employers/customers to think?

With the transparency of our lives these days and the audit trail of our contributions to the various spaces we occupy, we might have to become more honest than has been our wont.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reflecting on Les Miserables

On Saturday, we took our sons to see Les Miserables in London. For my husband and me, it was the third time of seeing the show. For the boys, it was the first. And it had been at their request that we went. They knew the music because I play it on my iPod in the docking station in the kitchen... and because I sing it endlessly. They have often asked questions about the story line and so on, and I was delighted when they asked to be taken to see something so cultured!

They both thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have been talking about it ever since. They raise points that take me by surprise and impress me no end. They noticed things about the staging and the lighting that your average theatre goer does not notice. My elder son spoke at great length about how each character who died was immediately picked out in a bright, tight beam white spot... except Javert, who fell into darkness. I hadn't noticed that. Good one kiddo.

Then tonight he pitched me a curved ball.

"Mom, in Les Mis, whose story do you think was the saddest?"

Wow! They were all pretty sad.

  • Jean Valjean who is imprisoned for 5 years for stealing bread to feed his sister's family, and then a further 14 for trying to escape... and who then spends most of his life on the run, having broken parole, in the process of trying to take care of Fantine's Cosette.
  • Fantine who falls in love, loses her virtue and is literally left holding the baby. In her desperation to provide for her daughter, she turns to prostitution and dies of the pox.
  • Javert, who sees life in black and white, only to have it all blow up in his face, when he is denied a heroic death, shown mercy by someone he believes to be sin personified.
  • The revolutionaries who believe that the people of France will join them, if only they set things in motion, only to find that they are alone... and to die at the barricade for absolutely no gain.
  • Eponine who starts out as her parents' little princess and winds up a street urchin in love with a student who is in love with someone else.
  • Gavroche, streetwise and defiant, who wields more power than one would expect from one so young, only to die at the barricade trying to collect bullets from the fallen soldiers to take back to the revolutionaries.
It goes on and on.

Do you know the story? Who do you think has the saddest story and why?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where the conversation now takes place...

Some time back, I set up the Friendfeed app within Facebook so that my Twitter comments and blog posts all appear within my Facebook news feed. I now find that the conversation is shifting

People who would not previously have commented on my posts, who may indeed not even have been aware of them, have begun to participate in the conversation. However, they respond to the Friendfeed notification on my Facebook page rather than here.

Ironically, this tool which allowed me to unify my various communication streams has also fragmented it. People who comment in one space, don't get to see the comments of those who do so in the other.

I'm not really going anywhere with this observation. Just sharing. I'll be interested to see if it resolves in any way, or if I'll continue to be piggy in the middle of two conversations on the same blog post or tweet.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Taking my foot off the gas...

Last night I discovered that there was a parents' evening for my elder son's year group. He had forgotten to mention this to us and then gave the teachers some cock and bull story when they asked if we were coming. Obviously, they felt the need to see us!

The teachers subsequently sent us an email, asking to set up another appointment, because they are concerned about our son's work ethic. This was my response:

I wonder what benefit there would be to our meeting. We all know what the problem is and we all know what the solution is. Only one person has the power to bring that solution about, and he chooses not to do so. If, after reading the following, you still feel that a meeting would have value, we will gladly meet with you, but I have my doubts.

Over the years, we as parents have done more than most to go to bat for our son. He has been granted more opportunities than most. He has been more encouraged than most. We have always adopted an open door policy with teaching staff. He has been supported in every way we know how. On countless occasions, we have spoken the words, "I believe in you." This young man has stepped into each day off a firm platform of assured parental love and support. And this continues. Even now we are spending a fortune on additional tuition so that he can get a decent grade on the stats re-sit.

The sheer fact of the matter is that (name removed) has not been a good steward of the talents and resources God has so graciously given him. In his early years, it was quite clear that (name removed) was a child of exceptional abilities, some of which were recorded in academic papers. Over the years, he has chosen to squander that, and is now quite happy to settle for mediocrity. We ask him on a daily basis how he is coping with his school work. We ask him on a daily basis whether he is up to date with his assigned work. And on a daily basis, he assures us that all is well. This has now been his practice for some years. (Name removed) has been quite happy to let life happen to him and to be a spectator (and sometime victim) of the event.

I, for one, no longer have the physical or emotional strength to keep dragging that horse to water. As a learning professional myself, I value a good education more highly than most, but if (name removed) does not, that is his choice. He is 18 and an adult, now. He knows that choosing MSN over school work is likely to result in his ending up in an unfulfilling job, but in the final analysis, it is his choice to make. And, while he regularly promises to turn over a new leaf, his action speak for themselves.

We cannot force him to work. We cannot force him to tell us the truth about his workload or what he is not achieving. We cannot force him into the driver's seat of his own life. We cannot force him to care about his future. Believe me, we have tried! We have invested time, money and emotional resources. We have lectured, we have reasoned, we have guided, we have cajoled, we have threatened and we have disciplined. None of it has the made the slightest difference. The only recourse left to us is to take our hands off the situation and let him rise to the challenge or bump his head while he is still in a safe enough environment to recover from it without irreparable damage.

The ball is now in his court.
I wonder how the teachers will respond. How would you respond?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Connection speed projections in Sweden

Being a family of Swedes and South Africans living in the UK, we are often afforded an interesting vista of contrasts in terms of life experience in the three countries which impact our lives so greatly. This week is no different.

Here in the UK, there is a big push for improved broadband connection speeds. The goal is 2Mbps for every home by 2012.

Sweden has opted to aim higher. Their Minister for Communications has promised "100Mbps broadband to 90 per cent of its population by 2020, with 40 per cent having it by 2015". It will be interesting to see if they manage it.

Meantime, my South African relatives are still largely on dial up!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

...and, speaking of ethics...

This report from the BBC is not new, but it has only just come to my attention.

Once the African National Congress came to power in 1994, the South African government embarked on a programme of land redistribution. The stated goal was that 30% of agricultural land was to be placed in the hands of black people by 2014. To this end, farms were taken away from their white owners and restored to the black communities from whom the land had been taken generations before. Special loan provisions were made available to black farmers who wanted to buy land.

The problem is that much of this land has not been farmed since these provisions were set in place. You can imagine how this impinges upon the food supply and the economy of the region. You can imagine, too, how indignant are the erstwhile owners of the land and how divisive the situation is.

In a surprising move, the South African Agricultural minister has issued a 'use it or lose it' ultimatum. Having set the precedent for taking land from the hands of one group of people it deems unsuitable, it looks as if the government is quite ready to repeat the action.

Interestingly, this story appears to have received less coverage on South African websites than in the UK.

It may have been possible to justify the land redistribution the first time around, on the grounds of history and violated rights and such - although many would dispute that - but I find it interesting that the South African government would consider it within its rights to dictate how an individual may use (or not) the land that he owns, and to take it from him if he fails to comply. Does this fall within the tenets of democracy?

Of course I am saddened by the impact of the reduction in the food production. Of course I am concerned that the current owners of so many farms have allowed them to fall into disuse when the previous owners - forcibly removed - were farming them productively. Of course I dread the logical outcome of this situation.

Nevertheless, I wonder about the ethics of this move...